An excerpt from Chloe Caldwell’s forthcoming novella, Women
In Finn’s absence, I crave the attention of women. I jump at the chance to be around females, in public and private settings, with friends and strangers. I have sleepovers with my friend Lily that we call adult slumber parties. We go to bed early, side by side, and cook breakfast leisurely in the mornings. I also join an online dating site. (Remember when you went dyke shopping? The Female Woody Allen asked me over the phone recently. That sounded exhausting. And depressing!) I am a social fucking butterfly, I accept all invitations — and often I do the inviting. One Saturday I go on three dates in a row with women I meet online.
I tell myself these dates are a distraction technique but there is a part of me that hopes I will fall in love. I meet a woman who describes herself in her online profile as “a dyke” who “ride bikes.” This is perfect, and I wonder if she will be like Finn. I meet her on the patio of a bar, and ten minutes into our conversation I learn: 1) she’s an alcoholic, 2) Augusten Burroughs is her hero, 3) she checks herself into rehab often. She works delivering sandwiches for a cafe. Her face is all busted up from falling off of her bike the night before, drunk. I’m attracted to this kind of mess. We make plans to hang out again, and a few days later I meet her outside her grandmother’s house. We sit on the lawn close to one another and she passes me the apple she is eating. I take a bite and pass it back. Are we girlfriends? I wonder in my head, Or are we just sharing an apple? We walk to the grocery store to buy a six-pack and I make a salad at the salad bar. She asks me for ten dollars to purchase the beer, saying she doesn’t have any money. She whispers in my ear, Just walk out the door with the salad. I am surprised when she says this, not because it’s something I have never done, but because it is something I have.
We sit outside drinking beers, sharing my stolen salad, which is when she tells me she was recently arrested for stealing beer from this grocery store. She tells me she had done a bag of cocaine beforehand and I start to wonder about the recklessness of hanging out with a girl like this. I descend forward through the day with her, anyway. On some level I know I should feel uncomfortable, but I do not, and when she says, Follow me, I do. I follow her through her bedroom window. We lie in her bed, drink Svedka, and play with her cat and don’t have sex, though I keep wondering if we will. She gives me a tiny bag of cocaine and I put it in my pocket. She says she has to go meet a friend at the park and do I want to come? I say no. I’ve had enough for one day. Instead, I sit on the lawn outside her grandmother’s house with the cocaine in my pocket. Eventually I walk home and snort the cocaine, which is anti-climactic. I never see her again.
Another woman sends me an enthusiastic and articulate message about books and writing because in my profile I say I am a writer. We meet late one night at a bar. She wears a blazer and glasses. She is from Ireland. Her profile says that one of the first things people notice about her is that she’s androgynous. She’s tall and skinny and blonde and feminine. She says she is the gayest person in the world but in my head I think, I’ve seen gayer. She’s five years younger than I am.Ten inches taller. She walks me home. We go on a few more dates — to the movies, to dinner and drinks, and to a show. She pays for everything. She has money and a car; I have nothing. One night after she drops me off at The Aquarium, she texts me, Come outside. I am apprehensive and it is raining but I go out anyway. She is already standing there, waiting for me. She says, I just need to know for myself is this is heading toward romantic for you, or if it’s platonic. I tell her I don’t know. I say, Can I think about it? She says, I’m disappointed, but not really surprised. You always seemed hesitant. We stay friends, drive to the beach, grab drinks, go dancing. Months later I receive a mass email from her with the subject line “Gender!” Those of us who receive this email are to know she now identifies as “Genderqueer” and we must try to transition away from the pronouns “she” and “her.”
A friend sets me up with a woman named Angel. Angel is wearing the uniform of women our age in this city — American Apparel sweatshirt under a jean jacket, black jeans, and Frye boots. They are the Motorcycle design. She is sure to tell me she actually used to ride a motorcycle and that’s why she has them. We run into a group of her friends and she begins telling them about a girl she met and is falling in love with. She’s thirty, which is perfect. She turns to me and says, No offense, but I really need a partner who has already gone through the Saturn Return. We finish our “date” and I go back home to my basement where I watch movie trailers repeatedly and listen to songs about unrequited love.
I meet another girl on a patio of a bar. Her posture is horrendous and her social skills nonexistent. I find out she is a vegan, and ask her related questions until I excuse myself, saying I have to go to a friend’s house to meet her new dog.
I find a profile that intrigues me. The woman labels herself “bisexual” and I like the way she looks in her photo, short curly hair and flawless skin. We meet at a tea shop and it goes smoothly; we talk for a couple of hours. She drives me home. Afterwards, I feel hopeful about her, like it’s possible we will start dating. Later she texts me to ask if I want to fly a kite on our next date and I lose interest. We decide we’ll go to a movie instead. It takes us a while to decide on a film — I want to see something indie, she does not. We compromise and see a comedy. Sitting in the front row, craning our necks, she says, Sorry if it seems like I’m in a weird mood. Today my friend told me that she and none of our friends enjoy my company. I have no idea how to respond. I have wine with The Female Woody Allen that night and we look up my date on Google images. We discover she is a pretty well-known female musician in this town. She thinks she’s Ani DiFranco, The Female Woody Allen says.
There is a café I go to in the morning because a lesbian who reminds me of Finn works there. She has a buzzed haircut, a chain wallet, baggie jeans and bound breasts. I sit at the counter, drinking coffee and reading. She never lets my coffee cup get empty. She notices I am reading Stone Butch Blues. I read that a million years ago, she says. I try to find the courage to ask her if she wants to get a drink after her shift, but I can’t bring myself to do it.
I wake early one morning, and walk around outside before the cafe opens. I am drinking seltzer from a can and when she comes outside she says, I thought you were out here drinking a beer. She lets me in and I order a coffee and an egg and cheese sandwich. I sit at the counter and read my horoscope and then Finn’s. When she hands me my to-go bag, she smacks her forehead, realizing she’s given me the wrong kind of cheese. I tell her it’s not big deal, really, but she seems so embarrassed that I never go back.
Chloe Caldwell’s novella, Women, is out now from Short Flight/Long Drive books and is this month’s Emily Book. Her book of personal essays, Legs Get Led Astray was released in 2012 by Future Tense Books. Her essays have been published in Salon, The Rumpus, Thought Catalog, and various anthologies. She lives in upstate New York.
Photo by Ronny Sommerfeldt.
Chloe Caldwell’s novella is about falling in love with a woman, about loving women, about being a woman. It is a novella about a mother and a daughter. A novella about female friendships that blur the line of romance. A novella about a woman who, after having her first sexual relationship with a woman, goes on a series of (comical) OK Cupid dates with other women. A novella about a woman in her twenties who doesn’t know if she’s gay or straight or bi. A novella about falling in love and having your heart broken and figuring out what to do next. The book is an urgent recall of heartbreak, of a stark identity in crisis.